"I came as a snob," said Chris Hicks, Deseret News film critic. "I have to admit it. I'd never been to a hockey game before, and I thought it wouldn't be too entertaining. But hey, I'd put this on a par with any `Porky's' movie."

Hicks wasn't the only novice in a group of Deseret News arts reviewers who decided to take in a Golden Eagles game after work the other night. Joseph Walker (TV critic), Dorothy Stowe (dance and opera), Richard Christenson (visual arts), Ivan Lincoln (theater) and I had never seen a game.Elaine Jarvik, who reviews comedy, had seen one game: Harvard.

"But they don't play hockey, they litigate it," said political cartoonist Craig Holyoak, so we decided to count her as a first-timer, too.

Holyoak and our Today Section editor, Carma Wadley, had been before - and our food critic, Al Church, actually used to play the game. Well, only until he was in seventh grade, but he grew up in Detroit, where his boyhood idols played hockey without helmets.

(Learning this gave us new respect for Church. He has tasted more than bernaise. He has tasted life.)

"We need a new ref! We need a new ref!," the hockey fans began to shout, in unison and for no apparent reason, not too long after the game started.

I glanced at my companions to see if they were joining the chant. Would they become part of the passion, I wondered? Or would they hold themselves apart, in order to evaluate the event?

My companions had all gone to the refreshment stand.

When they came back they offered me hot dogs, ice cream, pretzels - and more. They offered me a chance to quietly observe the critic at play.

I learned that you can take the reviewers out for fun, but it's difficult to get them to stop reviewing and start screaming. They know no higher fun than to observe.

Take Walker, for example. As he walked into the arena he looked to see from what angle the TV cameras were filming the game.

And right away, cartoonist Holyoak honed in on people. He noticed that most of the women in the audience were good looking and most of the men wore tractor hats. He began sketching before the end of the first period.

Dorothy Stowe commented, "I think that's a synthesizer, not an organ." And Ivan Lincoln was actually asking people around him if the word "puck" came from the impish Shakespearean character.

Al Church kept up a running conversation with five of us at once, explaining the rules, the philosophy and the great American heritage that is hockey. Yet he punctuated his sentences with a food interview.

"I love that organ music. . . . Hey, how's your hot dog. . . ? It takes me back to my pubescent youth. . . . Ivan, did you get corned beef. . . ? No, none of the players wore helmets then. . . . Of course Dorothy loves that ice cream, it's Russell's. . . ."

Meanwhile, Elaine Jarvik, while she laughed merrily at her friends' corny humor, was heard to say to Hicks, "If you had told that joke from a stage I wouldn't be laughing."

They just can't help themselves. They are critics and critics draw analogies. So Hicks quoted directors on the subject of violence. Holyoak quoted Charles Schulz about the ice grooming machine. And Walker said, "Now I know how the Soviet observers felt at the PMT production of `Singing in the Rain.' I'm clapping when everyone else claps but I'm not fluent in the language."

I was sad when I discovered these likable people are destined to go through life as critics - witnessing much, comparing constantly, and never involved enough to lead the jeers or throw the first punch.

Yet, I came to realize they do enjoy life, in their own way: They enjoy learning.

On opening the program, Lincoln exclaimed, "Hey, they have the rules in here!" Soon he was explaining the game to Stowe (who was wondering, "Why did he do that? Is that a strategy or is he mad?"). Later, when the audience set up an ear-splitting wail, Jarvik had picked up enough on hockey to inform us that Paul Ranheim just set a record for goals in a season.

Seeing how much Church knew, Christenson took the seat next to him. "Unless I learn the rules and techniques I can't appreciate hockey," he explained. "It would be like someone who doesn't know how to make a woodcut trying to review an exhibit of woodcuts."

The next time they headed for the refreshment stand (about 25 minutes after the first time) I called to Carma Wadley, "Everyone's learning about hockey. These are pretty smart people."

"I know," she said, with less surprise than I evinced.

Soon they were back and Church offered everyone a taste of his broccoli-and-cheese-covered baked potato.

"Too bland, too Velveeta-y," said Lincoln.

"Everyone thinks he's a food critic," said Church.

"This is fun," said Hicks. "I might take my kids to a hockey game. But wait, they read the paper, and I don't want them to start nagging me. SO DON'T QUOTE ME ON THAT."